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Burnett v. Caruso

March 18, 2010

MICHAEL ANGELO BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PATRICIA CARUSO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
MICHAEL ANGELO BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM JONDREAU, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
MICHAEL ANGELO BURNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
P. CHAPPELLE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. R. Allan Edgar

OPINION

I. Facts

Plaintiff Michael Angelo Burnett, an inmate currently confined at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several employees of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Specifically, Defendants include Unknown Gill, Unknown Hyatt, D. G. West, Rick Wertanen, W. Jondreau, Linda Tribley, Unknown Morgan, L. Marshall, C. Charles, Patricia L. Caruso, T. Smith, James LeClaire, Gary Capello, Dean Velmer, T. Hill, J. Coppler, R. Sackett, G. McQuiggin, Unknown Betz, E. Jacobsen, R. Haataja, Unknown Perrish, Unknown Killiam, William Vertanen, Unknown Wuoka, Unknown Karpinen, and Unknown Heikkinen.*fn1

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that beginning in July of 2006, while he was incarcerated at the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility, staff at AMF controlled and tracked Plaintiff's movements in the security housing units. Plaintiff claims that staff incapacitates him before raping him and violating him anally and orally. In addition, staff humiliates him by making him swallow their bodily waste despite their knowledge that Plaintiff suffers from bacterial endocarditis. Plaintiff alleges that staff records and watches him while he is in his cell and while he bathes and defecates. Staff also racially and sexually harass Plaintiff and subject him to denial of food. Staff pressure Plaintiff to comply with their sexual demands and intimidate him with violence. Plaintiff claims that the Security Housing Unit Team broke his teeth, lacerated his hand, severely cut his lip, and wrote false disciplinary reports on Plaintiff for reporting the assaults. Plaintiff asserts that the physical assaults by staff have prevented him from writing legibly, intelligible legal papers and have resulted in the denial of access to the courts.

In Case Nos. 2:09-cv-101 and 2:09-cv-105, which have been consolidated with this case, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Terri Smith, J. Larson, P. Chappelle, Unknown Serano, J. Schaub, Unknown Nelson, Unknown Carmen, Unknown Levalle, Unknown Gravier, Unknown Coran, Unknown Lake, and Unknown Bowden controlled Plaintiff via electric shocks, forced him to consume radioactive substances, and gave him a life-threatening bacterial infection. In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendants forced him to masturbate in front of them and violated him anally and orally. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants interfered with his right of access to the courts. Plaintiff claims that he has complained to each supervisory Defendant, to no avail.

Plaintiff sues each Defendant in their individual capacity, except for Defendants Caruso and Jondreau, who are being sued in both their individual and official capacities. and is seeking both damages and equitable relief.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and/or Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Plaintiff has filed a response and the matter is ready for decision. Because both sides have asked that the Court consider evidentiary materials beyond the pleadings, the standards applicable to summary judgment apply. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party establishes that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). If the movant carries the burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim or defense, then the party opposing the motion must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324-25. The nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings but must present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Thus, any direct evidence offered by the plaintiff in response to a summary judgment motion must be accepted as true. Muhammad v. Close, 379 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Adams v. Metiva, 31 F.3d 375, 382 (6th Cir. 1994)). However, a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position will be insufficient. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Ultimately, the court must determine whether there is sufficient "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252. See also Leahy v. Trans Jones, Inc., 996 F.2d 136, 139 (6th Cir. 1993) (single affidavit, in presence of other evidence to the contrary, failed to present genuine issue of fact); cf. Moore, Owen, Thomas & Co. v. Coffey, 992 F.2d 1439, 1448 (6th Cir. 1993) (single affidavit concerning state of mind created factual issue).

B. Failure to state a claim

Defendants assert that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed as frivolous and failing to state a claim. With regard to Plaintiff's access to courts claims, Defendants state that Plaintiff failed to show that he suffered an actual injury to a non-frivolous legal claim. In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), the Supreme Court recognized a prisoner's fundamental right of access to the courts. While the right of access to the courts does not allow a State to prevent an inmate from bringing a grievance to court, it also does not require the State to enable a prisoner to discover grievances or litigate effectively. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996). Thus, Bounds did not create an abstract, free-standing right to a law library, litigation tools, or legal assistance. Id. at 351 (1996). Further, the right may be limited by legitimate penological goals, such as maintaining security and preventing fire or sanitation hazards. See Acord v. Brown, No. 91-1865, 1992 WL 58975 (6th Cir. March 26, 1992); Hadix v. Johnson, No. 86-1701, 1988 WL 24204 (6th Cir. March 17, 1988); Wagner v. Rees, No. 85-5637, 1985 WL 14025 (6th Cir. Nov. 8, 1985).

To state a claim, an inmate must show that any shortcomings in the library, litigation tools, or legal assistance caused actual injury in his pursuit of a legal claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351; Talley-Bey, 168 F.3d at 886; Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996); Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996); Walker v. Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920, 932 (6th Cir. 1985). An inmate must make a specific claim that he was adversely affected or that the litigation was prejudiced. Vandiver v. Niemi, No. 94-1642, 1994 WL 677685, at *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 2, 1994). Particularly, an inmate cannot show injury when he still has access to his legal materials by request, Kensu, 87 F.3d at 175, when he fails to state how he is unable to replicate the confiscated documents, Vandiver, 1994 WL 677685, at *1, or when he could have received the material by complying with the limits on property, e.g., where he had the opportunity to select the items that he wanted to keep in his cell, or when he had an opportunity to purchase a new footlocker that could hold the property. Carlton v. Fassbender, No. 93-1116, 1993 WL 241459, at *2 (6th Cir. July 1, 1993).

Further, in order to state a viable claim for interference with his access to the courts, a plaintiff must show "actual injury." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); see also Talley-Bey v. Knebl, 168 F.3d 884, 886 (6th Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court has strictly limited the types of cases for which there may be an actual injury:

Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions to slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are those that the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating capacity ...


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